Marijuana ballot question spurs range of opinions

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Official opinions about Amendment 64 are all over the board.

For every city official or organization that's endorsed one side, the other side can counter with its own. The “pros” have the National Lawyers Guild, the “antis” have the Colorado District Attorney Coalition. Pros have the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, the antis have the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police. And on and on.

Those against the amendment have far more official support, but municipalities and government agencies don't get to vote — the people do. And people are far less predictable than the government.

“That is one of those areas that's none of my business as a state legislator,” said Dave Kerber, Republican challenger for the Senate District 26 seat, during a recent debate. But as a business person who has to worry about his employees operating forklifts and trucks, he said he's personally against Amendment 64.

“I don't think we want to be known as the stoner state,” he said.

In a rare moment of agreement, his opponent, incumbent Democratic Sen. Linda Newell, is also opposed.

“I don't think it's a good idea for this state at this time,” she said, citing concerns about kids, conflict with federal law and the way the amendment is written. She would, however, protect medical marijuana as part of the Colorado Constitution.

Despite the fact that the “Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol” amendment could raise $40 million a year for schools, the board of the Douglas County School District has passed a resolution against it.

Douglas County commissioners and Sheriff Dave Weaver have taken stances against the amendment, as has the City of Lone Tree.

The Adams 12 Five Star school board, however, declined to take a stance. While all five school board members agreed the issue is serious, some questioned whether the school district should issue a position on the issue.

Arapahoe County commissioners have not taken a stance, but Sheriff Grayson Robinson opposes the measure.

The Adams County Board of Commissioners, on the other hand, voted to oppose it. Adams County Sheriff Doug Darr testified that the county has seen a 54 percent increase in marijuana use among school-aged kids and that driving under the influence of drugs has increased by 400 percent over the past few years.

That would seem in direct conflict with a study by Mark Anderson of Montana State University and Daniel I. Rees of the University of Colorado-Denver.

“Legalization of medical marijuana is associated with increased use of marijuana among adults, but not among minors,” they write. “In addition, legalization is associated with a nearly 9 percent decrease in traffic fatalities, most likely to due to its impact on alcohol consumption.”

The theory is that people replace alcohol with pot. The amendment forbids public use of marijuana, so people would most likely use it at home, out of sight. Alcohol is widely used in public, and people perhaps drive from a bar to home, for example.

The San Miguel Board of County Commissioners is the only governmental entity on record as voting to support the amendment, although individual elected officials from across the state are listed on the “Yes on 64” website - among them are Karen Kellen, president of Lakewood City Council, and Gary Brovetto of the Woodland Park City Council.

There are disagreements within the municipal entities, as well. Littleton City Council voted with one of its seven members absent; though it went on record as declining to take a stand, the vote was actually a 3-3 tie. The failed resolution said Amendment 64 would increase pot use, harming children and affecting their education.

“Colorado should not take a lead on supporting this, and I don't think Littleton should, either,” Mayor Debbie Brinkman said before the vote.

Councilor Jerry Valdes wasn't convinced.

“I don't see the negative impacts that we're saying could happen,” he said.

Amendment 64 would allow localities to ban marijuana establishments by either a vote of their elected representatives or a direct vote by the people. Littleton City Manager Michael Penny says his staff is working on a plan of action should Amendment 64 pass.